Well Chosen Words

Location: United States

Recently awarded rank of Fellow, Society for Technical Communcation (STC). Owner, Well Chosen Words (http://wellchosenwords.biz), providing consultative support for communication projects including management of complex proposal projects for small business clients to submit to secure contracts with government agencies. Aging gracefully with the ability to see humor in the ironic.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Feast or Famine

Successful independent technical communicators are almost always busy doing something although it's not always something that generates revenue. Here at Well Chosen Words, we find that the expression "feast or famine" has real meaning as far as contracts are concerned.

We have some wonderful, long-term clients that we would never want to turn away if they need our help - so, sometimes we end up with several projects going at the same time. It's a balancing act - writing, doing graphics, editing, and then - production including desktop publishing, copyediting, quality control, reproduction and assembly, or rollout (whether hardcopy, web site, or electronic copies, this phase always takes longer than anyone anticipated).

It's okay or even great to be really busy including even a few all-nighters if necessary. Generally technical communicators are able to multi-task without panic (actually I'm beginning to think it is a talent we have). We thrive when challenged to balance random items in the air - and like most contractors it's our mantra said as we rise every morning - "never turn down work."

But, sometimes when related to revenue-producing the feast part work of "feast or famine" in unwelcome. We'd rather do something else - like watch our grandson show his championship pig at the County Fair or celebrate one of his rites of passage.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What does Retirement Mean to a Writer?

The debate goes on - What are technical writers and/or technical communicators? Are they writers, defined by product or industry, tasked with communicating with targeted audiences? When asked by a youth, communicators sometimes point to TV remote instructions or other convoluted guides and say that's what technical writers do - but, do we really want to claim those? After all, some technical communication professionals maintain that most of the work they have ever done was technical communication - even fiction writing and journalism, audience analyzing, managing projects and people, facilitating projects, teaching and training, and designing marketing materials.

Seasoned technical communicators struggle with these definitions when asked to tell others how to enter the field - what to study, what first jobs to seek, whether to pursue graduate study and/or some sort of certification. It's pretty hard to design a test to demonstrate competency when it's not clear what should be evaluated.

Anyway - I am debating this question today because I'm pestered by a follow-up question. If we don't know what we are supposed to be doing to be technical communicators, how do we know whether and when we've retired? Still writing, still supporting some of the same clients and being well paid - but, enjoying the work - does that count as being retired, if you're doing it from a home office? And, what about the writing you don't get paid for, but that requires the skills, talents, and experience accumulated -- writing fiction, work for volunteer organizations, articles, presentations - some accompanied by honorariums, some not. What does retiring mean to a writer? Maybe enjoying it more.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Anything You Can Do, We Can Do Better

We technical communicators are a pretty diverse bunch of professionals with skills, talents, and depth of experience across a broad range of subjects, industries, and disciplines. Yet, it seems to me that we all are qualified well beyond the work that we usually claim for ourselves. Consider taking the list of qualifications in this article and matching it against the qualifications for the communication and/or collaborative job you have in mind - particularly if motivation of team, analysis of audience, and project management are involved too. And, if you're lucky, you may get to write - to be a writer - too. (And, BTW - lately I'm been writing short stories.)

An Encouraging Exercise: Match Technical Communicator abilities to anticipated project activities
A partial list of what technical communication managers know how to do…

1. Formulate and follow directions; give and comply with instructions
2. Collaborate with technical experts and executive managers; build effective relationships
3. Write convincing narratives
4. Interview scientists and engineers
5. Establish and manage complex schedules, rollercoaster costs, budgets
6. Assemble and train ad hoc project teams; mentor
7. Organize peer and editorial reviews; resolve comments
8. Develop and implement project communication plans
9. Mediate, negotiate; balance disparate work styles
10. Design, prepare, and revise resumes and project descriptions
11. Develop creative ways to display information in varying media
12. Showcase technical products effectively
13.Get communication projects out the door on schedule, under budget
14. Understand when to stop revising and accept “good enough”
15. Work under tight, inflexible deadlines
16. Facilitate meetings; insist on action item resolution
17. Apply generalist’s knowledge and interest in many subjects
18. Resurrect and improve old text; adapt “boilerplate.”
19. Keep one’s cool when all about are losing theirs
20. Retain an affection for words and pictures
21. Communicate warmly with clients and stakeholders
22. Manage production and distribution of high quality deliverables
23. Plan and conduct meetings, presentations, post reviews
24. Retain sense of humor; practice patience; appreciate irony
25. Choreograph exuberant celebrations

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Calming Influence

With a second hurricane threatening one of the places we used to live, we're scanning the weather maps for some "calming influence" - an atmospheric condition to tame down the storm called Rita before it hits Texas or Louisiana. Friends still not back home and another one coming.

Life in general is kind of like that too. Time management experts extoll the advantages of making lists and eliminating the unimportant. Life coaches urge us to give up worrying about what we can not change. Others point out, "one person's bad planning is not another person's emergency."

Well, it sounds good in theory. But, here it is - the day before leaving for LavaCon in Hawaii - and, I'm not finished with what I need to get done so that I can feel okay about leaving. Lists won't help - too many items on a list tend to cause racing pulse and dry mounth. And, if clients waited to ask for support - well, it is an emergency for good consultants - guess we'd just better anticipate future requests next time. And, when family or friends need us - well, a week isn't that long, after all. And, as for eliminating the unimportant - that is the hardest part of all. Knowing what is and what isn't. Sigh!!

Calming influence? I think I'll play solitare until I win one. jmh

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Humor in the Ironic Posted by Picasa

Frustration Level - Moderately High

Well, I decided today to take the time to publish posts in this blog daily. It is time I don't have, but something I really want to do. So, I wrote a very nice piece on some work I'm doing for a presentation on virtual collaboration using web-based tools. It was well written, interesting, and demonstrated my penchant for seeing humor in the ironic.

Then, then...I previewed the page - and, at that moment when I was ready to publish, a momentary interruption between my computer and the serve, and - it was gone, gone, gone. A very amateurish result for someone in the business of technical communication for about fifteen years - you guessed it - I hadn't saved the draft - and, it was gone...just like the bad ol' days of early word-processing. Thank heavens it wasn't a great poem.

Well Chosen Words will return soon - particularly if we can figure out how to post while on the road. jmh

Friday, June 04, 2004

Awesome Responsibility

June 4
Well, the only way to understand the true nature of a tool is to use it - or so I've always thought. So, here am I creating a blog. But, since I always write intially for myself, I'm not sure how this log can help you. We'll see. I come with a bias - feeling that listserves are a more appropriate form of community - more social, less dependent on the attention span of the reader and the egotism of the writer. We'll see.....